Issue 550April 2016

Member Profile: Doug Wittnebel

Sketching the City

Urbanist Article May 21, 2016

Taking a break from welding at the Crucible in OaklandAs Design Director of Gensler’s Oakland office, architect Douglas Wittnebel helps to direct the vision of project teams as they collaborate with technology, energy and financial firm clients. His over 30 years of experience, 14 of which were spent overseas in Tokyo, Bangkok and Hong Kong, has helped him, he says, “fine tune my abilities to quickly understand new points of view and alternate ways of expression.” 

We caught up with Wittnebel to talk about all the work Gensler is doing in Oakland, including what might be the most high profile building project in the city: the new Uber offices at Uptown Station.  Gensler is also looking to help transform the historical 1960 Kaiser Center building; is in the early stages of designing some mixed use projects on Telegraph and Broadway; and is refreshing the look and feel of 1111 Broadway. Wittnebel also helped SPUR with its Oakland HQ on 1544 Broadway.

Oakland has no better booster than you. What do you love about the city?

I love a lot of things about this cooler city by the bay. From the wonderful cranky container cranes that feature in my drawings, to the numerous classic architectural treasures from years past, the cool and delicious range of restaurants offering everything from fragrant Pho to fried chicken, the diversity of people who take care of the city, the music of the hills, and the potential of the city to become better, greener and full of opportunities in the near future…

Speaking of your drawings, we’ve had a big crush on them for years.

Thanks for the crush! My drawings and paintings are my life. I live and breathe and touch many events and spaces through my drawings and paintings, they are an extra special dimension added to an experience that is akin to etching a memory or engraving an image into my mental storehouse. I draw as much as possible: I teach drawing at U.C.  Berkeley, I sketch whenever I can, I draw with my young daughter on Saturdays and Sundays. The iPad is an extremely cool device that I use for most of my current design thinking and place observations, and I have an assortment of go-to apps and stylus pens that can allow me to explore the depths of the cool intermixture of analog and digital.

The sensation of the mind and hand working together in tandem can be described as a sensation of both beautiful calm at times and of frenzied energy at other times.

Your love for Oakland is apparent. Any other favorite cities?

I think I have at least four favorites: Tokyo, Bangkok, New Orleans and Vladivostok. Each is special in its own unique ways, flavors, sights and architecture. In my future travels, I eagerly look forward to seeing and drawing the cities of Istanbul, Prague and Budapest.

Favorite urban view?

Still on the lookout for that number one favorite view, but for now, let’s list the view from the Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the top of the Tokyo Sky Tree and the memorable view of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo.

Favorite book(s) about cities?

The City and the City, China Miéville, Common Ground in a Liquid City by Matt Hern, and Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas.

Film?

Roman Holiday, LA Confidential, and Lost in Translation.

And city-themed works of art?

Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte by Georges

Seurat, Paris Street, Rainy Day by Gustave

Caillebotte and Famous Places of Edo (Edo Meisho):

Kasumigaseki, Hiroshige.

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